Creating Scalable Products from a Design Perspective

Ever find yourself working at a startup and realizing that perhaps it would be easier to restart from scratch because scaling the existing platform seems too complicated?

Welcome to the real world!

I remember a couple of years ago when I was enamored and high on sleep deprivation going through Coding Boot Camp. Creating a new product, thinking of the user, thinking of the moving parts, lots of notes, sketches, wireframes, prototypes and then, boom, we had an MVP.

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It’s a nice thought, to think of a product, design it, create it, and move onto another one. In real life … not so much.

What we sometimes fail to realize.

Technology moves faster than one would imagine, developers move on to other jobs, and things that used to be done one way, are now moved onto another platform. You can find evidence of different transitions almost everywhere.

As a product is being used, there is a very important discovery process that must be ongoing and reactive.

Here’s what I’ve seen happen again and again: A product is created, with under the gun type of timing, without a lot of research, and thrown out to the world. This happens with software, computers, printers {looking at you, HP and Windows}, and all kinds of things. As the product is being used, clients are asking for things that they would expect it to do, but end up being feature requests because they were never built.

Client 1 asks for something, it gets delivered, Client 2 asks for something slightly similar but not quite the same, it gets delivered too as a separate thing … and this is how it starts.

There are so many moving parts and so many perspectives! Design, business, development … everyone has a different point of view, and everyone sometimes has different goals. While the design team would like to create something functional and beautiful, the business team would like to sell the idea, perhaps bring investors and so on. This is a great article by Forbes that talks about scaling a business, it’s a short read and super informative.

 

Clarifying goals.

The customer is everything. The customer has the need, the money, the problem and all the answers to all our questions. From personal experience, keeping this simple goal in mind is more difficult than one would expect. When you’re developing something from an engineering point of view, technology, blockers, knowledge, can sometimes take the driving seat in projects vs keeping in mind the solutions a customer is asking for, this is why collaboration between teams is so important.

All teams should think about the customer. That’s it, that’s all.
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Image courtesy of rawpixel

Yes, sometimes it feels like it might be best to rebuild, I think the opinion poll on this would be a tight 50/50. Depending on who you ask and when. There are factors that may weigh the decision such as money, time and client expectations.

Obviously, a good way to avoid all of this is to think things through. Not an easy task.

Use common sense.

So, how does one, as a designer, help develop a product that is scalable, without diving into a rabbit hole? There’s not one single answer, and there’s not one perfect answer. But, this is an example I give my peers all the time, and I think it’s a good rule to live by, all around:

If I ask you to go to the grocery store for me and buy a block of cheese, and, when you get to the store, you see that the block of cheese on sale: buy one, get one free … do you 1. Get me two blocks for the price of one? Or, 2. You just come back to me with one block of cheese, because that’s what I asked for?

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Photo by Katrin Leinfellner on Unsplash

Please tell me your answer would be 1.

Seriously, if you show up at my house with one block of cheese, and later I find out you could have brought me another one, I will be very disappointed in you.

Practical and thoughtful. These are the same rules one should keep when designing a product. 

What to keep in mind.

Here are some things I like to keep in mind when creating products:

The user:

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Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Ok, I know a lot of people use personas … I hate personas. Hear me out, don’t stop reading yet! Personas are fictional, if you are creating personas, you are already {at least I hope} doing some sort of research … otherwise, you are just pulling stuff out of your … sleeve? Making assumptions you have no business making. So, why not just do your research, ask some people around, ask your client, have a call, whatever, and practice putting yourself in the same place as your client, instead? Sure, you can later create some personas for the sake of the teammates that have trouble being empathetic {like perhaps some developers who have unfairly, in my opinion, gained the position of being unable to feel things}, go for it, if you have time. But, just research, ask, have a real conversation with the user if you don’t have experience in the matter.

 

The possible user:

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Say, for example, you are designing a piece of software for a product development team, products need a fair amount of research, databases, and even sourcing. Why not go the extra mile and just take a peek at what perhaps someone working with sourcing would need to have access to? This way the product developer can have open and clear communication with sourcing and create a product that is not only what they hoped for, but also easy and cost-efficient to get. It’s about creating other possibilities to create future features and ensuring that the product you are creating continues to grow and succeed.

 

The timeline:

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Photo by Matthew Kwong on Unsplash

There will be times, probably more times than you’d like, that you will be provided with a ridiculously short timeline. Not going to sugar coat it: this sucks. But, it does happen way more often than you’d think. So, what does one do when one can’t change reality? Create your own system. Prioritizing is key. Invest meaningful timing at the beginning with your client, if possible. Some nice tools to help with this are, of course, shadowing, screen recordings, heat maps to see what kind of tasks your client performs, and what kind of blockers they encounter to get their job done. Having all this information from the get-go, really help create something better packaged for your customer and move things along faster in the end.

 

The flow:

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Photo by Matthew Kwong on Unsplash

Once you figure out your clients, then you put together the flow. From beginning to end. You can write this in your notebook, you can create some charts, doesn’t really matter. Some clients like to see presentation-like materials as a plan for their product, do this if this is what they want. Personally, I take the notebook approach, then I clean it up in a chart, and I make the chart with Adobe Illustrator, nothing super fancy because I typically don’t have time to learn to use other stuff. The flow will help you design and account for options that may not have been super clear in the beginning.

 

The look:

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Photo by Ben Kolde on Unsplash

Listen, everyone always gets hung up on this. Studies have shown that clean design with a structured journey is the most successful within web experiences, so, why not just go with that? Think of your project as a message, what is the message of your product?

Here’s an example:

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Photo by Manuel Cosentino on Unsplash

What’s the purpose of a “Thank you” card? What do you typically see in these? What does a person receiving the card know about the message as soon as they see this card? Would a person receiving a “Thank you” card with no artwork and written in a napkin feel the same way as a person receiving a beautifully designed card? It’s simple, and perhaps a silly comparison, but the idea is to ensure that you get the message across quickly and efficiently. Spending too much time giving the page too much flare could be a waste when you’re under a tight deadline, but using some heavy hitters like nice transitions and quick loading, best quality images, could just do the trick. You can spend a lot more time on this after MVP, or, so I hear 🙂 {Here’s a secret: You will never have time afterward, so, go on, spend the extra 15mins making that graphic just right, just don’t spend 8hrs on it, this may come with experience and in time, this is a good article about some easy rules to go by on design that may be of help}.

 

Proofread your work:

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I don’t know if you do this, but proofreading is sort of an art. I love to proofread and also ask others to help me with this, as you can sometimes make mistakes. “Proofreading” your design is a great process to become accustomed to. Yes, I know that you worked hours, days, weeks on your absolutely stunning design, and it’s really detrimental when it feels like it’s picked apart by others in a matter of minutes. Take this opportunity to elevate your design. Create your first go at it, V1, and go back and recreate the journey, ask for help from others as well, you’d be surprised at the number of changes you may need before landing on your best work. Don’t give up!

 

Defend your work:

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Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Don’t think that because you are asking for feedback you need to make 700 edits to your work. You also don’t need to act on every single suggestion you get. Sometimes, you have to be the voice of reason, and you may need to help others see your vision by explaining why you made the decisions you made. You will find that it’s way easier to defend when needed, your design if you have the data to back you up, this is why taking the time to know your user, and your possible user is so important. Others tend to find it easier to see your vision when you articulate how you thought of scaling the product while creating a design.

In short, thinking about scaling while designing something will render better and longer lasting results. I would love to hear your techniques as well, so be sure to email me at eloisa.docton@gmail.com and I would love to add them to a future piece.

 

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